Friday, January 15, 2010

The French Way of Love

When it comes to matters of the heart the French are better than the rest of us. If you don't believe me, ask someone French.

The French are better at wine, better at cheese, better at fashion... and thus it follows, as the night the day, that they are better at love.

This being the case, imagine my shock when I discovered, thanks to Dr. Helen Smith, that the French have just passed a law criminalizing verbal and psychological abuse within marriages and committed relationships. Links to Dr. Helen's posts here and here. Link to Fausta's post here.

Keep in mind that serious French intellectuals have long idolized the Marquis de Sade, both as hero of the Revolution and sexual liberator. What would the divine Marquis, as he is commonly called, think of this new law?

Meantime, in today's France if you get caught insulting your spouse, you first get a warning, then you get a citation, then you can go to jail.

We might be inclined to dismiss this as an anthropological anomaly, but a recent Rasmussen poll, reported by Dr. Helen, tells us that 32% of Americans would be happy to have the same law enacted over here.

If 32% of Americans wish they were French, that is surely cause for concern.

Of greater cause for concern, however, is the fact that, as Dr. Helen says, this kind of law grants the government a right to violate every couple's privacy.

Are we so worried about protecting people from the least insult that we are willing to allow the government to police private conversation? Are we willing to sacrifice our freedom to have the opportunity to call the police when a man utters a disparaging word about his wife's appearance?

And what about witty banter? Are we moving toward a world where Beatrice and Benedict in "Much Ado About Nothing" go to jail for their witty, and often insulting, repartee?

Whatever happened to the idea that adults should know how to deal with offensive language without calling the police? Do we really need to give the police more reasons to intervene in private conversations?

What's next? Are we going to ticket and fine people for rudeness?

The French law greatly expands the scope of contemporary victimhood. Presumably we do not have the personal resources to deal with insulting lovers. That being the case, we might be severely traumatized by an offhand insult or even an expression of anger.

To eliminate that risk, the French are going to abandon their personal freedom, and their personal responsibility to stand up for themselves, and to give it over to the Nanny state.

It is positively infantilizing. It reminds me of the child who runs home to his mother crying that another child said something mean to him on the playground.

Moreover, as Dr. Helen and Fausta both remark, the French law seems to be directed at men. In France, the law was promoted by feminists, and that suggests that it was supposed to protect the "weaker gender."

This is strange too. After all, men are most often criticized for being insufficiently articulate, for keeping their emotions bottled up inside, and for failing to express their true feelings.

Do you think that this law will make it easier or harder for men to express the range of their emotions about their spouses?

Thanks to the French, the man who is articulate, who expresses his true feelings, from good ones to bad ones to indifferent ones, will be threatened with hard time.

Ironically, as Dr. Helen and Fausta note, women are the more verbally adept gender. With a better command of language, and a better command of nuance and subtlety, a woman is capable of flaying a man to within an inch of his emotional life before he even knows what is happening to him.

And Fausta also asks whether the law would apply to the woman who humiliates her husband in public? If so, would the couple's friends be called as witnesses and forced to take sides in a marital dispute.

Insulting your spouse in public is surely a trauma. Will such actions now be punished in France?

One person's witticism is another person's offense. We are already too quick to take offense, for slights real and imagined, and we are often ill-equipped to deal with them constructively. Now we are being told that we do not have to deal with them. If your lover offends you, you can call the police.

Why does anyone want to provide the thin-skinned with a new weapon, one that will surely be implemented through the wonders of modern surveillance technology.

Isn't this the unintended consequence of a law that risks degenerating into he said/she said. One day an unhappy spouse will simply install some surveillance equipment in her house, and then find an innocuous way to provoke an argument. Since it will all be on tape, she will have new weapon with which to punish her spouse, to gain an advantage in her divorce, or to control his future behavior.

It may have been intended as a measure to protect women, but in the end the only people who are going to profit from the new French way of love are purveyors of surveillance technology and divorce lawyers.

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